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Mr. Morley: First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments concerning those who have been affected and the response of the emergency services.

The hon. Gentleman may remember that the previous statement that I made to the House was on the Bye report and what we were doing in response. We have made great progress in acting on the report by uprating the national flood defence scheme, introducing flood risk awareness programmes and setting high-level targets for annual exercises between local authorities and agencies for dealing with floods.

All that investment and time over the past two years have paid off in the response that we have seen to the current situation, with smooth, professional action by the emergency services, much improved early warning, and everyone living on a flood plain getting a leaflet through the door from the Environment Agency explaining what action to take in response to flood warnings.

PPG25 is expected in December, and we would expect all planning authorities to take into account the advice from the Environment Agency on development on flood plains. In fact, 90 per cent. of applications that are objected to by the agency are turned down.

The publication of flood risk maps was another Bye report recommendation, and the Government have set that as a high-level target for the Environment Agency. All local authorities have flood risk maps for their areas and I understand that the Environment Agency is to make them more widely available.

There will be discussions with the insurance companies about risk with regard to those people who might find it difficult to insure their properties in the future.

The variety of funding sources that go towards flood and coastal defences is being reviewed and a report on that will be out in September 2001. I can confirm that the £51 million announced for the listed schemes is new and additional funding. In terms of the funding proposed, I announced in the statement that the Government are planning to spend £337 million in England--a combination of MAFF funding for capital projects and the funding that is delivered through the standard spending assessment to local authorities for flood defence. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about

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funding but, given the Conservative's party proposal for a £16 billion cut in public expenditure, how would it improve matters?

Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): I welcome my hon. Friend's statement, particularly the improvements to the Bellwin formula and the additional £51 million of funding announced by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Although we all recognise that the national focus has, understandably, been on the villages, towns and cities that have been inundated, does my hon. Friend accept that if one house is flooded, the misery is the same whether the flooding is localised or widespread? In that connection, and bearing in mind the repeat flooding in areas of my constituency, which, although localised, has nevertheless damaged dozens of houses in Mirehouse, Cleator Moor and Egremont, will my hon. Friend ensure that the changes that he has announced today will be equally and fairly applied to all areas and all families who have suffered, regardless of the extent of the flooding?

Mr. Morley: I assure my right hon. Friend that that is the case. He is right that although there has been much focus on areas in which many houses are at risk, there have been small, localised floods all around the country in which people have been seriously affected. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is ensuring that the Government talk to local authorities about how to make a unified response to ensure sure that people get the support that they need in all parts of the country.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I thank the Minister for the statement and join him in offering sympathy to those affected and thanks to our excellent emergency services. We also welcome the significant improvements to the Bellwin arrangements.

What plans does the Minister have to provide support to farmers in respect of uninsurable losses that they have suffered during the floods? Is he prepared to discuss with the Inland Revenue arrangements whereby businesses that have been affected by the floods will be allowed to submit their VAT and tax returns later than the official due date?

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Minister is planning to review the quagmire of our flood defence arrangements, but is it possible to bring forward the date on which that report is expected? Does he agree that given so many different bodies are able to act but there is no clarity about which has the duty to act, would it not be better to have a single body with the responsibility, power and funds to get on with the job?

Mr. Morley: First, I thank the Liberal Democrats for co-operating with the Government in providing time for the statement on their Opposition day.

The National Farmers Union has already made representations to MAFF about the problems that farmers are facing, and we will look at some of its suggestions. I also understand the hon. Gentleman's point about businesses whose records will have been destroyed in the floods. I give an undertaking that we will contact the Inland Revenue and ask for understanding on VAT and tax returns, given the circumstances, for the businesses affected.

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As for the review on funding sources and arrangements, I give an undertaking to look at the time scale again, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): I represent a constituency that has been adversely affected by much of the flooding on the River Aire in Yorkshire, so I thank my hon. Friend and other Ministers for the serious and thorough way in which they have dealt with the problem as it has developed. Will my hon. Friend give more details about the changes to the Bellwin formula which will increase the speed at which help can be given? Will the Government consider developing plans to help people with the reinsurance of properties if they have difficulties insuring them in future?

Mr. Morley: I know that my hon. Friend represents an area that has been affected. I have visited those areas and the emergency centres in Yorkshire, along with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I can assure my hon. Friend about the changes to the Bellwin scheme. Applications had to be made because payment under the old system was not automatic, which could lead to delays. That point was put to me when I travelled the country, talking to local authorities and visiting the affected areas. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has acted--payment under the Bellwin scheme is now automatic, the funding is 100 per cent. and there is a prospect of advance payments and a 15-day turnaround for claims.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister appreciate that some businesses and households have been told that insurers will cover this disaster, but that their insurance will now cease? Is he aware that, for example, the Yorkshire Dales Icecream Company and the households and other businesses in and around Cononley are in precisely that position even though the flooding there was partly caused by the malfunctioning of a flood reservoir that was built under a previous flood relief scheme? Will he ensure that, while the Environment Agency undertakes its work, which is bound to be spread over a long time, those businesses are protected in the event of further problems between now and those works being accomplished? After all, we are not yet into winter.

Mr. Morley: I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, that is one of the matters that we would expect the Environment Agency to look at when it has time to review the situation and the areas that might need attention. He is right about insurance, which is why my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been anxious to take the issue forward in discussions with the insurances companies and to ensure that consideration is given to those homes and businesses that may face insurance difficulties in future. It is fair to say that, at present, there are few people who cannot get insurance in flood risk areas.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for visiting the Stockbridge area of Keighley last Friday and talking to many of my constituents and taking on board many of their anxieties. On Friday, we discussed topping up area social funds. He assured me that he would take that on board because many of my constituents will need to resort to social funds to

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help them out of immediate difficulty. The uninsurability of dwellings has been mentioned. That will be a problem for many of my constituents because many insurers--most of whom have been helpful recently--may not want to take on those households again. Yorkshire Electricity's vans were very much in evidence on Friday, but we did not know that the company was charging households a £65 reconnection fee. I was going to mention that to my hon. Friend privately, but I thought that I would get it in now.

Mr. Morley: I was very moved by the experience of the people I met in my hon. Friend's constituency. Again, the local authority was working hard with all the agencies to provide support. I was impressed that Benefits Agency representatives were present at the rest centre to advise people on the spot. I understand that the Department of Social Security has a central contingency fund. I know that applications are being made from flood hit areas to ensure that there is adequate funding for those people who may qualify for the social fund. I shall take such matters as those raised by my hon. Friend into consideration. I must confess that I was not aware that the utilities were charging people a reconnection charge. I should have thought that the utilities would have taken into account the stress that those people were under at the time.

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